As part of my job, I coach senior executives and leaders on how to be effective communicators. From basic communication skills to more critical, complex skills that ensure leaders are communicating in an effective, efficient way that that drives positive measurable business performance, I cover the gamut.
Communication includes all that we say and what we do, and the alignment between the two speaks volumes. I teach it. I model it. So when my six year-old inadvertently pointed out that I might not be practicing what I preach; that my say and do might not be aligned; and that my active listening skills might need some polishing, I was taken aback.
Some of you may be wondering how a six year-old would be able to convey that message, but it was easier than you might expect. After an hour-long, emotion-filled rant, he said to me:
“Thank you for not interrupting me.”
This comment struck a chord. I’m an excellent communicator. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be successful in my job. My coaching methods are infused with tools and resources that support other important leadership attributes like accountability and self-reflection, so I took his statement to heart.
I thought about why he felt the need to thank me for something so simple, and what I realized was sometimes, when I’m parenting, I forget.
I forget that when I tell my kids that they need to listen, I need to listen too, and listen first. I forget that especially when my kids are frustrated, sad, or angry I need to listen to every word they say without thinking ahead or problem solving because if I’m doing either one of those things when my kids are talking, I’m not actively listening.
Sometimes I forget to watch body language and listen for what’s not being said, which is often the most critical thought. I forget that my boys’ communication skills aren’t developed and won’t develop unless I model good communication for them.
My son thanked me for not interrupting because this time was different than most. This time, as my sweet boy was talking in-between sobs and shouts, I listened intently to every single word and I carefully watched his body language, which helped me identify what was really bothering him.
It was hard. Hard to stay focused on his words without letting my thoughts creep in and hard to remain silent during that hour. But, I did both of those things so he could say all that he needed to say, without interruption.
And when he’d said all that he needed to say, I still withheld words of advice because by then, I realized what he really needed was my ear.